Torn Asunder

“We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the United States of America, hereby dissolved,” David F. Jamison pronounce from his podium at the center of the hall. “Furthermore, we will address our fellow Southern states that they might join us in this formation of the Confederate States of America. We will not stand for this injustice.”
Noah Townsend wiped the sweat from his brow and ducked quickly beneath the swinging elbow of the man next to him. He gulped for a breath of air. The hall was packed with almost every city-man from the state of South Carolina. Noah wedged his way between a couple burly men to watch Mr. Benjamin Franklin Arthur carefully inscribe his signature onto the official document making South Carolina free from Lincoln’s tyrannical rule.
“Noah!” a voice called out from behind him. Noah whipped around to see his buddy, James Tabor, squeezed between two other men. “How do you suppose Louisa’s folks will like this one? They barely let her marry you.” Noah’s insides twisted. What would this do to his wife?
“How did it go?” Louisa called hearing her husband’s shoes hit the wooden floor behind her at the front door. Noah hung his hat on the hook by the door and stepped forward to face his wife’s back while she cooked on their coal stove.
“We have declared our independence.” Noah placed a hand on the small of her back.
“Rightly so, I would say.” Louisa tried to ignore her apprehensions.
“Are you sure?” Noah turned her to face him.
“Only time will tell. Ready for your dinner?” Louisa replied as she placed bowls on the table and poured stew into each one.
One single dull booming of mortar sounded from Fort Johnson three months later. Immediately following, flashes of yellow and orange lit up the sky near Charleston, South Carolina. Numerous gunshots and cannons fired sounding much closer this time. Groups of men armed with muskets and any other weapon they could find began to stream out of the houses downtown and the plantations on the outskirts of town.

“Noah?” Louisa threw off her quilt and searched the room spotting her husband’s figure rustling through his clothes and shoes on the floor. “What is going on?”

“The war is starting, Lou. The Yanks have refused to give up the territory that is ours at Fort Sumter, so we’re taking action.” Noah pulled on his boots, buttoned up his jacket and crossed back to his new bride.

Fear glistened in her eyes, enhanced by the pale moonlight. “My father will never forgive me.”
Noah sat on the bed beside her placing a firm hand on her shoulder. “When we win this war, he’ll realize you made the right decision in living for what you truly believe.” He kissed her forehead before standing up to grab his musket. “I promise you, everything will be okay.” She watched as he pulled his hat on his head and exited the front door joining his fellow countrymen.
At this point, Louisa knew she was not remaining in their bed. She reached for her bonnet on the nightstand, fitted it over her chestnut hair, and tied it at her throat. A quick glance out the window showed her more women gathering close to the water’s edge to watch their men row out to Morris Island to mount more artillery. Throwing on her petticoat, Louisa stole out into the streets getting lost in the rest of the crowd of men pushing to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. She rushed to join her neighbors and friends.
“Louisa! There you are!” Mary Tabor called out from under an off-white bonnet. “Noah just went out on that boat with James.” Mary pointed to one of the rowboats almost to Morris Island.
“What on earth has happened?”
“My James said the Union refused to give up their control of Fort Sumter. They are trying to steal our land by keeping themselves stationed on it. Besides those Yanks have been lying. They have been trying to bring more troops to the place. James says they have been planning an attack on us ever since we declared our freedom.” Mary pulled her shawl tighter around her as a cool breeze swept over the water and onto the banks of the harbor. “Your father mention any of this in his letters?”
“Yes, he did. When I first left to marry Noah. He has not written me since we seceded, and even before then his letters were more business-like than personal. He knew it was coming and that Noah would be one of the delegates making the decision.” Louisa rested her head on Mary’s shoulder. Mary patted her best friend’s back, hoping to offer any comfort she could.
Mary remembered the day her brother, Noah, came home from one of his summons to the federal capital. This time, however, he was not sharing with his people the absurd initiatives of the Northerners, but that he had fallen in love with one of them. To make matters worse, he had fallen in love with daughter of Colonel Baker, leader of the fifth regiment out of Pennsylvania. It was the first Mary had ever heard Noah speak of the girl, but when he returned home from his next summons, only two months later, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty clung to his arm. This girl had not acted like any Northerner Mary or any of the other Charleston residents had ever met, though. Louisa shared their agrarian ideals. Her clear-cut dislike for the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, put her even more in their favor. Even now, most of the neighbors had completely forgotten her ties to the North.
Mary also knew the façade Louisa put on for the people of the town. Louisa was externally such a happy pro-confederacy girl, but Mary knew how much she had struggled internally with the austere feeling of disappointment she had left her parents brewing in. The two women had churned butter and sewed blankets together throughout Louisa’s emotional breakdowns. All the while, Mary had to remind herself that Northerners just were not as tough-skinned as she and her fellow Southerners. However, nothing could deter Mary from a true friendship with her sister-in-law.
Explosions continued to echo through the night air. Children and women remained standing on the banks until the wee hours of the morning, retiring to wagons their neighbors pulled up for comfort. All continued to keep a close watch on the scene unfolding before their eyes.
Louisa’s eyes snapped open. A loud, rumble of cheering was erupting from all sides. Mary’s head popped up in Louisa’s peripheral vision. Both quickly refastened their bonnets and turned their attention to the fort. Barely hanging from the flagstaff was the Federal Flag, tattered and torn. Another shot soared through the air and with an earth-shattering screech the flagstaff hit the ground scraping the stones surrounding the fort as it took to its grave.
General Beauregard and his men were at the front gate demanding surrender, while the other men of the Confederacy continued to fire at the newly hoisted Federal Flag hanging from the parapet. More shots hit the flag tearing it asunder. The people on the shores watched in quiet awe as the Union soldiers within the fort took down their flag and in its place flew the white flag of surrender. Another uproar emitted itself from all sides of the harbor. Cannons boomed, bells sounded, shots rang out, choruses of men shouted cries of victory, and children hooted and hollered. Louisa held her breath as General Beauregard and his men escorted the Union soldiers within the fort out to their ships and ordered them to leave, which they were much obliged to do. All was well in the South, or so they believed.

“We won! We won, Lou!” Noah leapt out of the rowboat barely clearing the water and swept his beautiful bride up in his arms. He smelled of gunpowder and the residue clinging to his hands transferred to Louisa’s petticoat.
“Put me down, Noah,” she whispered refusing to share in the excitement. All around the rowboats were bringing the valiant Southern men back to the banks of the harbor. Women and children latched on to their husbands and fathers as continuous celebration carried on.
“Lou, what is wrong?” Noah followed his wife as she turned to follow the main street back to their home.
“I am worried about my family, Noah. It is bad enough I left and married you against my father’s wishes. Now, the war he predicted has begun and we are on the side that is going to defeat everything he stands for.”
“There you go! You do have confidence in us!” Noah offered a small smile to lighten the mood.
“Noah…” Louisa turned to him shaking her head in disgruntled amazement.
“Look, Lou, I told you it is all going to be okay. This is not going to last more than a few months at the most before those Yanks come to their senses and give us the rights they know they have robbed us of. It will be as simple as that.”
“And if it is not?”
“Then they are in for a rude awakening.” Noah responded coldly. “They have underestimated us ‘country folk’ for too long!”
Families passing the couple also returning to their homes shouted “Amen!” in hearing Noah’s last remark.
Louisa said nothing as Noah opened the door to their home and followed her inside. She removed and placed her petticoat back on the rocking chair in the corner. Carefully untying her bonnet Louisa noted Noah staring at her curiously. She laid it on the bedside table and burrowed down under their heavy quilt. The bed sank next to her minutes later when Noah slipped under the quilt as well. They both stared at the ceiling waiting for the sound of freedom, for Noah, and the sound of warning, for Louisa, to die down before they both drifted off to sleep.

Bugles sounded in the streets jarring Louisa awake from her sleep later that morning. She turned over to see that Noah was nowhere to be found. One of the doors on the armoire hung slightly open. A significant number of Noah’s clothes were missing. Louisa wasted no time pulling on her gunpowder and residue stained petticoat and bustling out the door to the center of town where a congregation of women surrounded a greater congregation of men standing before General Beauregard. The crowd was silent as General Beauregard began to speak.
“Men of the Confederacy! The President of the Union has declared war on us!” he bellowed from atop his horse. “Last night was only a taste of what our great nation has yet to achieve! I ask that you take up arms with your fellow countrymen and fight this war of independence from the tyrannical rule of the North. Make no mistake; some of you will die in this cause. But remember just that. This is for a cause. You will not leave this world in vein if you fight for your freedom!” Ecstatic cries from the men filled the town. “If you wish to follow, we will go immediately to Virginia to meet up with our brothers in combat. We have caught wind that they are now in the process of declaring their independence!” More shouts of joy erupted from the crowd.
The men were ready to go. Louisa stood in the back of the crowd frantically searching for her husband. Tears welled up in her eyes and Louisa realized that she had not bothered to put on her bonnet before running outside. She quickly wrapped her incredibly long blonde hair into a bun at the base of her neck and pulled her petticoat up to cover most of her head.
“Louisa!” her name was being called from the center of a group. Sure enough people in the crowd began to be shoved aside as Noah made his way to her.
“What are you doing?”
“I have to go fight, Lou. They need everyone they can get.” It pained Noah to see the terror on his wife’s face.
Her tears were pouring from her eyes now. “If you have to go, just promise me you will come back. And that you will show those Yanks everything you are made of.” Noah kissed her quickly ensuring his promise and took off after the rest of the men as they began their march northward. The women, the men too old to fight, and the youngest children were the only souls left in the town.

It had been almost two years since Noah and the men had taken off. Or had it been three? Louisa had lost track of time. It all seemed to go too slow or too fast. She had continued to go about her daily routines, keeping herself focused so as not to think about the worst. Noah had not sent her any letters, but from what she could tell no news was good news. She could not count the number of times she had seen the post man deliver a telegram or letter to women in town informing them of the most hapless situation. Both she and Mary had gone to comfort at least one woman once a week from the loss of her husband or son.
News poured in daily of a small amount of Confederate victories and a considerably large number of Union victories. Everyone in town was losing their spirit. The Union had long since set up a blockade around their ports and all the ports of the South. Recently, the Union had begun bombarding the now Confederate occupied Fort Sumter. Sleeping was next to impossible throughout the night when the bombs and firing really picked up. So Louisa spent every night writing letters to Noah scolding him for leaving her all alone, exulting him for his bravery, and reminding him of his promise. It was a sort of catharsis for her deteriorating soul.
On this particular July 7th evening as Louisa started on her 1193rd letter to her husband, one for every night he had been gone, Mary Tabor knocked rapidly on the door.
“Just a second, Mary!” Louisa folded up the dated piece of parchment and slipped it under the bed.
“Louisa! This cannot wait!” Mary sounded urgent. Louisa raced to the door and pulled it open. Mary’s face held a pure white pallor. Clutched in her petite hands was a slightly worn letter, Louisa could tell that much.
“Wh…” Louisa could not formulate her question as her mind began to gain realization.
“I…I stopped the postman on his way here. I thought you might like to get it from someone who loves you. We can sit down together and you can read it to me.” Mary released the telegram with one hand and took hold of Louisa’s arm. Louisa snatched the letter out of Mary’s hands and slowly unfolded it.
“It’s from Gettysburg,” Louisa whispered.
“Postman said he received word there was an awful bloody battle there a week ago.” Mary regretted speaking the words the second they fell out of her mouth.
“Headquarters
General Ulysses S. Grant
Pennsylvania Brigade
1st Division
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

July 2nd 1863.
Louisa Baker Townsend,
Dear Ma’am,
It is with most painful feeling that I sit down to impart to you the sad tidings that Colonel Charles Baker has fallen. He was instantly killed by enemy fire at the Battle of Gettysburg July 1st. He fell while doing his duty manfully and I can truly say that we have met a loss that every member of this battery feels deeply. He was universally esteemed by both officers and men possessing the confidence of all. I deeply regret that this letter has to come to you. Sincerely, General Ulysses S. Grant.”

Louisa dropped the letter as she finished reading and sank to her knees. “My father.”
“Louisa, I am so sorry.” Mary picked up the dreadful letter and reread it to herself as she knelt down beside Louisa.
Louisa choked on her tears. “He died for his cause. Let us pray that our husbands will not die for theirs.” Louisa wiped her tears on her sleeve and picked herself and Mary up triumphantly. Someone moved in the shadows near them. It was the postman.
“Louisa Townsend?” he called out in a shaky voice. Louisa stepped forward as he handed her another letter. Instead of delaying the anticipation she ripped this one open.
“Noah and James are coming home!” Louisa announced clutching the letter close to her heart and thanking the Lord with every breath.





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SecretNonConformist said...
Dec. 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm
Great job! I've always been fascinated by relationships during the Civil War so I loved reading this. I liked how you added the romance so it wasn't the usual "brother against brother". My one critique is the ending was a little rushed. Slow down so the reader can experience the characters' emotions better.
 
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